Chuck Canterbury: Our law enforcement officers are being targeted for violence – Here’s how Congress can help

Biloxi Patrolman Robert McKeithen, due to retire from the force at the end of the year, was ambushed and gunned down in the police parking lot by a young man on May 5. We don’t know why he was targeted.

In January, Officer Natalie Corona of Davis, California, was responding to a crash involving multiple vehicles. She was shot from the back and killed at the age of 22 by a mentally ill man. We don’t know why she was targeted.

In February, a man called for help and told police he intended to commit suicide. When officers arrived to render aid, he opened fire. After barricading himself in his home, he continued to fire on the responding officers, killing Detective William L. Brewer before being taken into custody. We don’t know why he lured these officers to his home and opened fire.

Members of the Biloxi Police Department Honor Guard escort the body of officer Robert McKeithen, into the First Baptist Church of Biloxi, Miss., Monday, May 13, 2019, for visitation. McKeithen was killed outside Biloxi's police station May 5. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Members of the Biloxi Police Department Honor Guard escort the body of officer Robert McKeithen, into the First Baptist Church of Biloxi, Miss., Monday, May 13, 2019, for visitation. McKeithen was killed outside Biloxi's police station May 5. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

OFFICERS KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY IN 2019

A December 2017 study by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services entitled Making It Safer examined law enforcement officer fatalities from 2010-2016, including ambush attacks. The study found that 20 percent of ambushed officers were seated in their patrol cars and that:

  • Fifty-six percent were not on a call or engaged in any enforcement activity. Many of these officers were simply eating, sitting on post, or in five cases, targeted and killed while at their home or on their way home.

We don’t know why law enforcement officers are being targeted for violence, but we do know the number of these incidents is increasing. We also know we need to do something to protect these officers when they are at their most vulnerable. To this end, the Fraternal Order of Police supports H.R. 1325, the “Protect and Serve Act,” which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on a 382-35 vote just one year ago. Every member of Mississippi’s delegation supported it.

As law enforcement officers, we know the risks that come with the job. But no officer should be at risk while simply sitting in a patrol car, having lunch with a colleague or heading for home at the end of a shift. 

The legislation would impose federal penalties on individuals who deliberately target law enforcement officers with violence. Already this year 115 officers have been shot in the line of duty, 20 of whom were killed. By our estimation, five officers were shot from ambush in four separate incidents, two of whom were killed. Last year, 251 officers were shot in the line of duty and 51 were killed. Of these, 22 officers were shot in an ambush attack, five of whom were slain. As law enforcement officers, we know the risks that come with the job. But no officer should be at risk while simply sitting in a patrol car, having lunch with a colleague or heading for home at the end of a shift.

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A May 2017 report issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the motivations of cop-killers revealed that many of these attacks are motivated by hatred or animus toward law enforcement officers. This same report stated that these killers felt that the communities and elected officials no longer supported their officers and they would not face serious penalties for their actions. We must change this perspective and we believe that H.R. 1325, the “Protect and Serve Act,” will do just that by demonstrating that our elected officials, as well as the members of the communities we protect, do still support our men and women in law enforcement.